Jaibalito Village, Guatemala
10.14.2008 - 10.27.2008
I’m sitting in my “office” at the house I’m renting in Jaibalito. My “office” consists of a simple, splintery, wood table and a plastic chair, placed strategically on my porch, facing the lake. I’m having a hard time focusing on the computer, when my views are of two majestic volcanoes, clear, calm waters, pine trees, palm trees and vegetation that looks like it’s out of Jurassic park – huge leaved plants that the locals use as umbrellas during the rainy season. I have never felt so at peace in a place, listening to nothing but the water flowing, birds chirping, dogs barking and children laughing. Being alone here is a therapy that I never imagined to touch me so deeply.
My tiny home is straddled by a creek that lulls me to sleep every night and every time I lay on my hammock, and by a friendly, indigenous family who live in a tiny and simple typical Guatemalan adobe home. The kids are on a break from school, so every day they fill their hours by running up and down their lush land, coming over and curiously looking at me and run away giggling when I look at them, collecting avocados and leña (fire wood) for their kitchen stove and of course, flying kites. I can’t recall a passion for flying kites (other than India of course) by children. They make them themselves, out of bamboo sticks and used plastic bags. They are tiny and frail, but they fly. And oh, how they love them. An oh, how I love to watch them.
To get to Jaibalito, there is only a path through the high cliffs behind the town (no thanks) or through a lancha (“speed” boat). The dock is close to my home and I can hear the lanchas starting early in the morning until about 7:30 at night. If you miss your lancha in or out of here, you are staying the night. Simple as that. This consistency of this schedule has turned out to be so good for me – I have to be home by a certain time or I don’t get home at all. Having been travelling for so many months now, without a schedule, without having to get back anywhere at any time, having to get back and walking into my quiet home brings an easiness to me that I didn’t know I was craving or missing. I love this place.
The highlands of Guatemala (where Lago Atitlan sits) are filled by small towns, each with a different story, each with a different indigenous group, each with its own Mayan dialects. The traditional values and customs of Guatemala’s indigenous people are strongest here and I sometimes feel like I’m in a country in Southeast Asia, not in Central America as their dialects are the first language spoken and Spanish is a distant second. Lago Atitlan is a collapsed volcanic cone almost as deep as the Grand Canyon, filled with shimmering, cool water. The lake is majestic, surrounded by volcanoes (three of them active) and lime colored hills that get fed by the constant rainy season. But now that the rains are gone, the land is simply glorious.
I have visited numerous towns around the lake with my good friends who I travelled here with and on my own. Each town is so unique both in the style of their buildings and roads, to the distinctive clothing worn by the indigenous people living there, mostly the women who wear huipiles (oversized tops, intricately hand stitched and tucked into a corte or skirt held by a faja or cloth embroidered belt). Think of it this way, it would be like your neighborhood wears a hand woven and stitched outfit with blue and red vertical lines, and purple, red and indigo flowers, while the next neighborhood (only 2 kilometers away) speaks a different dialect, wears a red and green outfit with squares and pink, blue and yellow woven flowers. The women wrap their hair around their head with different thin woven fabrics, resembling a crown, to allow them to work without their hair getting in the way, but keeping their femininity by keeping their hair long.
I’m starting to learn the different patterns and colors of the clothing and on the lanchas or on the streets I often stop them and ask if they are from the places I guess. I’m wrong most of the time, as there are so many villages around here. They almost gasp when I guess wrong and then slowly explain to me, with the patience of a kindergarten school teacher, how to tell the difference between them and the other hundred + villages’ designs. I smile, I nod, I say “ohhhh, si” and walk away thinking, huh?? The only difference sometimes is the shape of the neck of the huipil or the hand stitched flowers are on the back not the front. I think I will need several years here to begin to get it…and that’s okay, because I really think I could very easily spend several years trying.
I’ve been doing a lot of shopping around here. It’s almost impossible not to, with so much beauty in all the arts and crafts. I sit in yet another indigenous person’s home, on a tiny little chair, feeling so welcomed and have to pinch myself sometimes as a reminder that this is my job. My little company (Shkaa’la) is coming together. I’m here to help them (even if only little by little), buy their crafts, sell them and come back for more. A sale of one of their pieces to me means they will eat for a week. When I ask about selling me 10 of them it is almost shocking. The fact that I offer to pay them more than they ask is unbelievable. This is my job. I’m so thankful it’s hard to put into words…I am humbled beyond words. I walk out of each and every home filled with gratitude and love, knowing that I will come back, bearing fruit for the kids and money to buy more things from the parents. I’m deliriously happy doing this…